Into Thin Air


Jon Krakauer

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Into Thin Air Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer grew up in Massachusetts, and later studied environmental science at Hampshire College. As a young man, he developed a passion for mountain climbing, and throughout the 1970s he traveled to Alaska, Patagonia, and Mount Everest in search of difficult climbs. During these years, Krakauer supported himself almost entirely as a fisherman and a carpenter. Beginning in the early 1980s, however, he began contributing articles about mountaineering and the natural world to the magazine Outside, and by the end of the decade, he was supporting himself by writing full time. In 1996, Krakauer was involved in a major mountaineering disaster at Mount Everest, in which four of his teammates died in the middle of a snowstorm. Krakauer would eventually publish his version of these events in the bestselling book Into Thin Air (1996). Since the late 90s, Krakauer has published successful books on a number of topics, including the Mormon Church, the death of the marine Pat Tillman, and the life of Christopher McCandless (which formed the basis for the Academy Award-nominated film Into the Wild, starring Emily Hirsch). Krakauer continues to write prolifically; his most recent book, on college rape cases, was published in 2015.
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Historical Context of Into Thin Air

The book mentions several important milestones in mountaineering history, including the 1982 discovery that Mount Everest was the highest peak in the world, and, in 1953, the successful excursion to the summit of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary. As Krakauer argues, Hillary and Norgay’s monumental achievement became a rallying point for Great Britain (Hillary was from New Zealand, a part of the British Commonwealth), and Hillary himself became a poster-child for the British Commonwealth.

Other Books Related to Into Thin Air

Krakauer is a fan of the adventure novels of Jack London, a late 19th-century American novelist whose books include The Call of the Wild (1903), The Sea Wolf (1904), and White Fang (1906). Like Krakauer's work, London's books often feature vivid descriptions of the snowy wilderness, and include exciting scenes revolving around natural disasters, such as storms and blizzards. Another important text is The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest (1997) by Anatoli Boukreev, a mountaineer who appears in Into Thin Air. In response to Krakauer's account of the 1996 Everest disaster, Boukreev offers his own version of the events, and argues that his behavior saved many lives, rather than endangering lives, as Krakauer alleges. There is still a vigorous debate in the mountaineering world surrounding Boukreev and Krakauer's competing versions of the Everest disaster.
Key Facts about Into Thin Air
  • Full Title: Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster
  • When Written: 1996-early 1997
  • Where Written: Massachusetts, New York City
  • When Published: Fall 1997
  • Setting: Mount Everest
  • Climax: The afternoon of May 10, 1996, when a snowstorm separates Krakauer from the rest of the group, eventually claiming six lives.
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Into Thin Air

Controversy. Over the course of his long career, Jon Krakauer has seen his fair share of controversy; even so, Into Thin Air was by far his most controversial book. Numerous mountaineers, including several of the people who climbed Mount Everest with Krakauer, argued that Krakauer was distorting the facts and omitting key pieces of information. Krakauer rebutted many of these criticisms in a long postscript to his book.

Hollywood gold. Krakauer’s books have inspired some well-known movies. By far the most successful and popular movie inspired by his writing is Into the Wild (2007), directed by Sean Penn. Although a film called Everest, based on the events Krakauer discusses in Into Thin Air, was released in 2015, the film is not based on Krakauer’s writing. Nevertheless, the actor Michael Kelly (whose face will be familiar to fans of the Netflix show House of Cards) played Jon Krakauer in the film.